Tuesday, June 18, 2002
Judge Threatens to Dismiss Officers' Libel Suit Against Los Angeles Times
By a MetNews Staff Writer
A Los Angeles Superior Court judge yesterday threatened to throw out a libel suit brought by a Los Angeles Police Department officer and a former officer with the department against the Los Angeles Times if their attorney can’t prove he filed an opposition to an anti-SLAPP motion brought by the newspaper.
Lloyd K. Chapman testified under oath the opposition was delivered to the court by an attorney service on the date it was due, May 31, but the court computer shows no record of it being filed. Chapman also told Judge Irving S. Feffer that a copy of the opposition was hand delivered to the Times’ lawyers June 5 in addition to a copy mailed to the firm on May 31
Times attorney Kelli Sager, of Davis Wright Tremaine, said her office has never received the copy that Chapman said was mailed.
“I think there is serious doubt about whether the opposition was really filed,” Sager said.
Feffer gave Chapman until the end of business today to produce sworn proof of timely service. The judge said he will rule on both the lack of opposition and the anti-SLAPP motion Thursday.
“Sometimes things don’t get entered,” Chapman said. “Sometimes they slip through the cracks.”
Los Angeles Police Department Officers Ross Hay and Dustin Sclater filed a libel claim against the Los Angeles Times and two of its reporters, Matt Lait and Scott Glover, last year.
At issue are two April 2000 stories by Glover and Lait—who have done extensive reporting on the department’s Rampart scandal—pointing to Hay and Sclater as having falsified evidence, filed a false police report, committed perjury and made false arrests, along with other infractions. Hay, who is now a detective in the LAPD’s Pacific division, and Sclater, a police officer on the east coast, claim the articles defamed them.
In the articles, Glover and Lait reported that the key witness in a murder case told the Times that he falsely identified the alleged killer after being coerced by members of the LAPD’s Rampart Division.
According to the articles, Evelio “Rudy” Carrillo told the Times in an interview that details of a police account of Carrillo’s trip to the police station to identify a man who robbed him. Hay and Sclater pressed him to make an identification of the murder suspect, even pointing to a picture of a suspect that had been circled even after he informed the officers he could not help them because he had not witnessed the shooting, Carrillo said.
The articles “had some bearing” on Sclater’s decision to leave the LAPD, Chapman said.
In their motion to strike the plaintiff’s complaint, the newspaper argues that the officers are “public officials” under libel law and must prove that the Times defendants published the alleged defamatory statements with “actual malice.”
“Because plaintiff cannot satisfy this strict burden, their libel claim must be stricken for this reason alone,” the Times said in its motion.
The Times also argues that the alleged defamatory statements and purported implications are privileged because it accurately reported statements made by participants in official government and judicial proceedings and because the press is protected by the “neutral report” defense, which shields reporters from liability for publishing allegations made about a public official about a public issue.
Times’ attorney Alonzo Wickers IV said the three-day delay of the hearing was not a huge setback in the case, which can now be stricken due to lack of opposition or on the basis of the merits of the anti-SLAPP motion.
“We believe our motion should be granted on the merits as well,” he said.
The anti-SLAPP law requires the moving defendant to show that the suit impinges on First Amendment rights of free speech and petition, exercised in relation to a public controversy, and, if the required showing is made, the burden is shifted to the plaintiff to show a probability of prevailing on the merits in order to avoid having the suit stricken.
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company